Being “in the Now” When “Now” Hurts

Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment – The New York Times – By Ruth Whippman – Nov. 26, 2016

The simplification and mass-production of a philosophy make it ridiculous.

I’m making a failed attempt at “mindful dishwashing,” the subject of a how-to article an acquaintance recently shared on Facebook.

According to the practice’s thought leaders, in order to maximize our happiness, we should refuse to succumb to domestic autopilot and instead be fully “in” the present moment, engaging completely with every clump of oatmeal and decomposing particle of scrambled egg.

Mindfulness is supposed to be a defense against the pressures of modern life, but it’s starting to feel suspiciously like it’s actually adding to them.  

Perhaps the single philosophical consensus of our time is that the key to contentment lies in living fully mentally in the present.

This is a BAD idea when a person is suffering from constant pain and the present moment is torture. 

The idea that we should be constantly policing our thoughts away from the past, the future, the imagination or the abstract and back to whatever is happening right now has gained traction with spiritual leaders and investment bankers, armchair philosophers and government bureaucrats and human resources departments.

Corporate America offers its employees mindfulness training to “streamline their productivity,” and the United States military offers it to the Marine Corps.

If corporate America is enthusiastic about such training, that means they’ve found a way to make a profit from it, either by using to make their employees more productive or selling the idea.

Americans now spend an estimated $4 billion each year on “mindfulness products.” “Living in the Moment” has monetized its folksy charm into a multibillion-dollar spiritual industrial complex.

So does the moment really deserve its many accolades? It is a philosophy likely to be more rewarding for those whose lives contain more privileged moments than grinding, humiliating or exhausting ones.

On the face of it, our lives are often much more fulfilling lived outside the present than in it.

Surely one of the most magnificent feats of the human brain is its ability to hold past, present, future and their imagined alternatives in constant parallel, to offset the tedium of washing dishes with the chance to be simultaneously mentally in Bangkok, or in Don Draper’s bed

What differentiates humans from animals is exactly this ability to step mentally outside of whatever is happening to us right now, and to assign it context and significance

Our happiness does not come so much from our experiences themselves, but from the stories we tell ourselves that make them matter.

But still, the advice to be more mindful often contains a hefty scoop of moralizing smugness, a kind of “moment-shaming” for the distractible, like a stern teacher scolding us for failing to concentrate in class.

The implication is that by neglecting to live in the moment we are ungrateful and unspontaneous, we are wasting our lives, and therefore if we are unhappy, we really have only ourselves to blame.

This is exactly how pain is viewed these days: if you’re suffering from pain, you have only your own catastrophizing to blame.

This judgmental tone is part of a long history of self-help-based cultural thought policing. At its worst, the positive-thinking movement deftly rebranded actual problems as “problematic thoughts.” Now mindfulness has taken its place as the focus of our appetite for inner self-improvement.

The same has happened in pain management: actual pain has been rebranded as “catastrophizing”.

now our preferred solution to life’s complex and entrenched problems is to instruct the distressed to be more mindful.

This is a kind of neo-liberalism of the emotions, in which happiness is seen not as a response to our circumstances but as a result of our own individual mental effort, a reward for the deserving.

So, your suffering is not coming from chronic pain caused by botched epidurals and spine surgeries, genetic disease, ore car accidents, but rather from your “bad thoughts” about it.

The problem is you.

The easiest way to solve a problem is to redefine it to be someone else’s fault, so a person’s pain is no longer a medical problem but rather a person’s inner thought problem.

It is, of course, easier and cheaper to blame the individual for thinking the wrong thoughts than it is to tackle the thorny causes of his unhappiness

In reality, despite many grand claims, the scientific evidence in favor of the Moment’s being the key to contentment is surprisingly weak

So perhaps, rather than expending our energy struggling to stay in the Moment, we should simply be grateful that our brains allow us to be elsewhere.  

Author: Ruth Whippman is the author of “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.”

2 thoughts on “Being “in the Now” When “Now” Hurts

  1. Kathy C

    Thanks Zyp,
    I read this a while ago, and it was brilliant. This is it exactly. It also goes beyond Chronic Pain. They are doing this same thing with kids too. Many children live in impossible situations, and now they have these catchphrases, like “Grit”, apparently they reason they don’t do well in school, is that they don’t have “Grit.” It is not the impossible situations of poverty, and being unable to get 8 hours of sleep.
    I did the “mindfulness training” years ago to deal with chronic pain. Apparently you can just do that and it will be OK. As it turned out this only postponed a diagnosis. It has also had me in Limbo for years. A kind of Mindfulness autopilot. I moved to the mountains to get away from people and stress, and here is is again. An alcoholic woman almost died in my carport the other night. A Sheriff had been driving by and saw her go down. He came to my door to ask if I knew her. I feel like we are all in the Zombie Apocalypse here. People I meet have a grimace as they smile telling me how wonderful their life is. I watch as their eyes track left indicating a conflict. When I go to town is see sick people, untreated mentally ill, people living in their cars, with Medical problems. Apparently everything is just fine.

    I went on a road trip last week, to the Hot Springs, my real relief. It is temporary but worth it. I attempted to get a Surgeon to do another look as my imaging a few weeks ago. He gave me the standard nonsense. His eyes tracked left as refused to acknowledge the previous surgeries. He told me that he could recommend a Chiropractor. That is what they are doing now with people that don’t have the best Insurance or prospects. He avoided the entire subject of what is wrong with my spine, as if refusing to talk about it somehow makes it go away.

    We should feel sorry for him, he is so brainwashed he cant even speak freely anymore. They live by a Code of Secrecy. They have to constantly monitor their speech, they can’t speak freely anymore. Everything they say is a Corporate Slogan or words they are programmed to say. We are in some dark Dystopia. The billion dollar hospital corporation, has changed the language they can use, and they don’t even question it. They have done a good PR job on our Local Politicians, they can no longer even mention whether the Local Hospital is even up to standards. They have told the media numerous times they don’t make enough money.

    There is a vacant house near mine, a bank repo. The family that lived there, put their whol lives into it then lost it to the Bank. It has been vacant for years now, a place for squatters and feral cats. Just now a couple of “Urban Miners” came out. While we were gone, apparently someone broke it over there again looking for salable items. The Bank pays people 40 bucks to go out and maintain the property, of course this barely covers the gas to get out here. The last guy left with a trailer full of furniture and even the water heater worth 10 or 20 bucks salvage. They are stripping the copper and anything else they can sell. No wonder there are so many Zombie Shows on TV. It is here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Zyp Czyk Post author

      You are so right – these are hard times for those of us in the 99% that aren’t wealthy. These feelings of despair are exactly what mindfulness is supposed to treat. But, I’ve noticed that when I get mindful, I become more mindful of exactly how bad my pain is.

      Without distractions, it feels much worse, and I end up fidgeting and squirming and waiting for my 10 minutes to end, so I can go back to forgetting about it while I try to do something productive. That’s SO much more effective!

      I believe meditation is an excellent mind exercise and know that it has emotional benefits. I have noticed that I became calmer and less anxious, but only after over 3 months of almost daily practice. After stopping for about 6 months now, all benefits have disappeared.

      I’m sad that I can’t be still long enough for meditation. They say you can do it walking, but then I focus on those pains. Being in the “now” always seems to put me more in touch with how much I hurt.



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